First Minister speaks of Her ‘Deep Sadness’ As NI Political Leaders United In Their Tributes

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First Minister Arlene Foster spoke of her “deep sadness” at the death of the Duke of Edinburgh as Northern Ireland’s political leaders united in tribute yesterday.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill also offered her condolences to the royal family.

The Duke (99) passed away at Windsor Castle yesterday morning.

Offering her condolences, DUP leader Mrs Foster recalled how Prince Philip, whom she met several times, had a strong interest in Northern Ireland.

“He had a profound and positive impact on thousands of our young people who found their purpose, passion and place in the world through participation in the Duke of Edinburgh Award,” she said.

“This inspirational programme is just one example of the many charities and voluntary organisations in which he was involved right up until his retirement in public service at the age of 96.”

Speaking outside Belfast City Hall yesterday afternoon, Ms O’Neill also extended her sympathy. Sinn Fein’s northern leader added: “When any family loses a loved one it’s very difficult and while they may be public figures, they are also a family that is hurting so I just want to extend my condolences to them.”

Asked why she thought it was important as a republican to offer her condolences to the Queen, Ms O’Neill replied: “I’m deputy First Minister for all and I think it’s really, really important that I reach out to all those people that value and cherish the Royal family at this sad time and offer them my condolences.

“I think it’s really important that we’re respectful at this time of loss – a family are grieving – and I just think it’s important to acknowledge all of that.”

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken described Prince Philip’s loss as an “extremely sad day” and noted his service with the Royal Navy during the Second World War.

Ulster Unionist Party leader, Steve Aiken (Brian Lawless/PA)

PA

Ulster Unionist Party leader, Steve Aiken (Brian Lawless/PA)

“He will also be remembered for his charitable work and in particular for the transformative work of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme, which had such a positive impact on so many young people’s lives across the United Kingdom and beyond,” he said. “He will be sadly missed.”

Justice Minister Naomi Long said her thoughts and prayers were with the Royal Family.

“My condolences, in particular, go to Her Majesty the Queen, who has lost her husband and constant companion and support of more than 70 years,” she said.

“No matter your role or how public your life is, that is a devastating thing to experience.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the death of the duke as an “immensely difficult time” for the Royal Family, which will only be compounded by the Covid-19 restrictions.

He also acknowledged the role both the Queen and Prince Philip played in promoting reconciliation after The Troubles, especially after the IRA killed the duke’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten, in 1979.

“I also send my sincere condolences to people in communities across Northern Ireland who feel a special connection and affinity with Prince Philip and the Royal Family,” added Mr Eastwood.

TUV leader Jim Allister said it would be appropriate to adjourn the resumption of the Assembly on Monday as a mark of respect, and called on those “rightly proud of their loyalty to the Crown to cease demonstrations”.

“This is an incredibly sad day, not just for the Royal Family but for the whole of the United Kingdom,” he said. “Though 99 he connected with countless young people through the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. This death leaves a huge gap in national life.”

Assembly Speaker and Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey last night announced that the Union flag will fly at half-mast from Parliament Buildings until 8 am the morning after Philip’s funeral.

The Assembly will meet at noon on Monday for MLAs to pay tribute to the Duke and then adjourn, and a link to the official Book of Condolences has been posted on the Stormont website.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald also sent her “sincere condolences” to the Queen. She posted on Twitter: “Sympathies to those of a British identity on our island, for whom his death will be felt as a great loss.”

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Queen Elizabeth and the people of the United Kingdom at this time.”

Irish President Michael D Higgins also expressed his “great sadness”.

US President Joe Biden highlighted the Duke’s “decades of devoted public service”, Second World War service and environmental efforts in remembering his legacy.

Belfast Telegraph

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